May 10, 2018
Greetings from the Congo! We are currently in vacation mode. The miserable heat of Benin in May is many miles away and we are enjoying the temperate climate of Lubumbashi. After a few days camping with family, Colin began teaching a Survey of the Old Testament. The 5 day, 25 hour block course was for a group of over 30 ministry leaders from local churches in the region. A highlight of the week was catching up with Teena’s uncle Dan Grings who visited from Kinshasa. This week we are enjoying time with Seth and Darla Curtis and the kids are having a great time with their cousins. In this update we hope to share some of the many activities that have taken place since we wrote last…our calendar has been full!
Time has passed quickly since we last wrote. Bible school, medical teams, interspersed building projects and a very productive Bible translation consultation with Joshua Hedges of Bibles International have kept us moving. Wrapping things up to catch our flight south of the equator was like watching for light at the end of a tunnel.
Earlier this year we enjoyed having Tom Ovenell come for a visit and practice chiropractic in the clinic. His daily schedule was grueling but rewarding. Chiropractic is very hands on and he returned home sufficiently wiped out each evening. The results were varied; some individuals experienced relief from back or neck pain. One of our pastors regained full use of his arm after several months of suffering from a pinched nerve. Some came hoping for a miracle, but left smiling because the appreciated the compassionate care and the educational experience. We were very sad to see Tom go.
Shortly thereafter, we enjoyed a repeat visit from Walter and Carol Loescher and Tracy Boutrus. The Loeschers arrival gave Dr. Steve and Katrina Boutrus a very valuable break in the action to fly to Greece for a vacation/continued education conference with hundreds of other missionary medical practitioners. Dr. Carol and Tracy headed up the ministry at the clinic while Walter helped with various ongoing projects.
There are always projects to be completed. It seems before we complete the ones in progress we are already planning new ones! Recently we were able to complete a storage addition for the clinic as well as a designated space for medical staff to escape the flow of patients in the clinic for meals and rest. Joe Marshall replaced the water storage tank that sprung a leak 25’ atop the water tower. Most significantly, we finally were able to complete the first and most important phase of the dormitory for the students in Malanville. One of our Bible school graduates, Abdoulaye Namata and his wife Djamela are currently ministering as dorm parents from the church facility in Malanville.
Abdoulaye graduated from our 4 year Bible training program this past March. This was our second graduating class. We now have 23 graduates from the Bible Institute. Next Spring we anticipate graduating 6 from our women's program as well as 2 more of our men. It has been a very busy season for training ministries. In addition to teaching and coordinating our regular program in Guéné, Colin traveled to Cotonou to teach a group of pastors and church leaders a course in Genesis. Steve and Julie Nunemaker coordinate the training program in Cotonou and once again traveled north to Guéné to teach and encourage our student body. We are grateful for the team of missionaries and pastors that we continue to partner with in various aspects of ministry.
A lot has happened to report in this short update! We are ever grateful for your prayers and ministry support. Keep an eye on your inbox in the weeks to come as we lay out some of the exciting things that are coming together through our ongoing discipleship/training ministries and that of our medical and evangelistic outreach.
February 5, 2018
In our previous update we highlighted the challenges that we have had of late with internet and communications. Some of these issues have been resolved, others persist. Currently we are in Niamey, having returned Teena’s parents, Steve and Ruthann Bell to the airport and picked up Colin’s brother Tom Ovenell. The improvement in internet here in the city allows us to catch up on vital communications and reflect on how to report what God has been doing since you last heard from our family. One of the most remarkable events was the celebration of Christmas with over 80 individuals in our small church in the village of Kouberi. We shared a meal, watched a special video presentation and enjoyed the day together. At other churches in our area similar services were held and hundreds of people heard the gospel message through the ministries of faithful Dendi believers.
Shortly after the holiday season our first medical team of the year arrived. Dr. Jack Mitchell, assisted by his wife Jennifer returned once again to resume training of certain staff members in dental hygiene and extractions. Dr. Chuck Hurlburt, a member of our clinic board of directors and two experienced nurses, Tracy Boutrus and Ellen Doyle also returned to give a boost to the clinic ministry and offer further education to our staff. Special meetings were held to evaluate the progress of the medical ministry and evaluate certain benchmarks. It is exciting to report that the clinic has already achieved a remarkable level of financial sustainability. More importantly the primary objective is being met…the spread of the gospel to the local population. Thousands have heard of Christ through the ministry of our medical staff and evangelists and have experienced a compassion that is found no where else outside of the body of Christ. Patients from far away and from several adjacent countries have come to receive treatment. Please pray for the continued development of our medical ministries, for future growth and expansion and for an effective communication of the gospel resulting in the transformation of individual lives, families and even an entire region and culture. Pray also for the safety of our medical staff. We are currently on alert for another outbreak of Lassa fever. Lassa fever is similar in nature to Ebola which occasionally ravages the underdeveloped parts of Central and Western Africa.
While Teena’s schedule doesn’t allow her to interact directly with the medical ministry in Boiffo she has enjoyed ongoing contact with mothers and caretakers of orphaned and malnourished children. Recently we experienced a shortage in formula supply and are grateful to be able to stock up once again here in the capital. From time to time she is also called into the village to follow-up on patients, providing wound care and other medical assistance. One such case was a woman who had an unexplained infection spreading over the lower portion of her leg that had nearly become fatal. Her family have now been introduced to Christ and have seen his transforming power in our lives. Pray that these and others would turn and follow.
For the past two months we have been blessed to have Teena’s parents working alongside of us in the ministry. Teena’s mother was a great help with our children and in assisting with hospitality while her father took over on a number of projects that I was glad to have off of my plate. His skills as a carpenter have become renown in the area and his willingness to always set aside his work to share the gospel with others has come to be expected. As a highlight for our family and ministry team he shared from the Word for our Sunday evening worship services.
To round off the events of these past weeks, Bryan Bell is currently editing and preparing footage for a video production to be used in the clinic setting highlighting the testimonies of our staff and believers from diverse language groups in our region. Bible School is once again in full swing and phase one of the Malanville dormitory project has nearly come to completion. God is working in our hearts and lives and in those around us. We are ever grateful for your prayers and support in this ongoing work.
December 6, 2017
Below is our most recent prayer letter. After numerous attempts to send it over a poor internet connection we gave up. Only the print edition was delivered. We are currently in the capital of Niger, picking up Teena's parents, restocking, and taking care of business. The information below while dated, is still relevant to your prayers on our behalf. Read on!
This Thanksgiving week we have a great deal to be thankful for. This year Teena and I celebrated 15 years of marriage, 10 have passed since we arrived in Bénin. At times we have thrived, other times we merely survived, but God’s gracious hand has been evident throughout. Our children, our most precious investments have mostly thrived as well. Ethan survived a recent altercation with our antelope which left him crippled for the better part of a week after suffering a deep puncture wound behind his knee. Eliana seemed to be sick more often than healthy for a good part of late summer and fall but has returned to good health. Elias is as energetic and mischievous as ever and never seems to slow down.
Communication is crucial for successful relationships, ministries, and just about any human interaction that one could imagine. Having said that you are probably wondering why it has taken more than two months for us to send an update! Once again we may be guilty of overly adapting to our surroundings and losing track of time. It is the tyranny of the urgent that seeks to overtake our lives and cause us to respond like fire fighters turning in every direction in reaction to whatever seems most pressing. At the present moment we are responding to the imminent threat of the loss of our telecommunications company in Bénin. We have been informed that the government is demanding excessive fees and taxes that were not in the original contract and the company is refusing to comply. They have built up the communication network in this country and now they are being punished and threatened with expulsion. The CEO of the company will be leaving tomorrow (Friday the 24th) as persona non grata. As a consequence the only other remaining cell phone and internet company will inherit a network that they are likely unable to manage well or sustain. Our access to internet has deteriorated in the past several weeks due to a waning desire on the part of the phone company to invest in maintaining a product that is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain due to the excessive demands. We expect that things will get worse before they get better.
Unfortunately miscommunication and abusive communications have been a recent part of ministry here as well. Two key churches that refuse to work together, generally choosing to compete rather than collaborate. Several key leaders that have either been offended or offended others breaking down relationships and hindering the flow of gospel ministry. Selfishness, gossip, lies, and pride seek to tear at the progress that is being made. Attacks on key individuals seem almost strategic in nature. These are not new circumstances, nor have they been foreign to the life of the church historically or here in Bénin, but we have seemed to experience heightened tensions here lately on the field.
Ironically, the challenges that we face are often signs that things are progressing well. Our enemies, Satan and the world are actively seeking to sideline individuals, families and even entire ministries because it has become apparent that lives are being transformed and the gospel is going forth. The clinic has been operating for three months now and it has been a phenomenal success. Not only has the ministry had a great impact on the health of our region but a growing number of individuals have placed their faith in Christ as a direct result of the open door. The decision to follow Christ has been costly for a few of these individuals who have faced opposition and even beatings. One of these individuals showed the doctor the stripes on his back from the arrival of four thugs who came to persuade him to abandon his newfound faith. He prefers to avoid alerting the authorities for fear of reprisal against other members of his family.
Joe Marshall has completed set-up of the vocational training center adjacent to the clinic in Boiffo. Bible Studies and literacy classes are ongoing in our home and in various other homes and local churches in the region. Our translation team completed the NT revision so that we can soon begin recording an audio version. Projects at the clinic are ongoing as we respond to the most pressing needs of a vibrant work. God has been so good to us and to the people with whom we live and minister. Thank you for your part in keeping things on track here in Bénin!
August 23, 2017
So much has happened since we last sent an update I have a hard time knowing where to start! We are currently in Niamey looking for a few dull moments since they seem to be so hard to find. It has been a constant push over the past few months to get new missionaries settled on the field and finalize preparations for the opening of the clinic. We thank that Lord for so many who have been along to help from our missionary colleagues on the field to Bryan Bell and the GDM medical personnel that have traveled out to fill voids and work tirelessly to get everything into place.
Saturday, August 12th was the official inauguration of the clinic in Boiffo. Pastors from our churches 13 hours south traveled to be a part of the day. Local village chiefs from all around, the king of the Dendi, and the governor of our region were all present to view the clinic, express words of encouragement and gratitude and celebrate the momentous event with our extended church family. Local military police were on site to provide security. Although purposely it was not a widely publicized event over 300 were in attendance that day. We enjoyed the opportunity to give glory to God for his magnificent work and give thanks to the local church in Boiffo, without whom the clinic would never have been given life. (Check out photos from the big event!)
Just weeks prior we received notification from another mission organization in Niamey that they were liquidating a very large mobile welding shop valued at nearly $60,000 USD. They wondered if our ministry in Bénin might be interested in purchasing the shop and equipment for a more reasonable price of approximately $40,000. The potential was very exciting as we considered the opportunity to fully equip the Marshall family in a very short matter of time for their dream of a vocational training ministry. This dream has been working itself out firstly by the arrival of the Marshall's on the field and then through our discussions and planning for integration with our current ministries and Bible Institute. Sadly, we knew that despite the discount, our finances with the mission and the Marshall's combined would not come close to making the purchase. We determined to make it a matter of prayer and wait upon the Lord. Shortly thereafter our sister mission called again to let us know that they were going to have to liquidate everything for around $17,000 to a local man who had no intention of using the equipment for God’s glory. We were presented with one last opportunity to intervene, at the lower price, in order to keep the shop in the Lords service. We prayed, made necessary contacts and scraped together the necessary funds to purchase the shop and equipment and pay to have it transported to its current site in Boiffo. It all happened so fast, and in such an amazing way it could only be explained in one way... God’s providence.
Then on our way up to make an airport run with Bryan Bell and GDM nurse Tracy Boutrus we were violently rear ended upon entrance into Niamey by a local taxi. We were traveling at a speed of approximately 35 mph and as I saw him in my rear view mirror I could tell he was traveling at a speed in excess of 50 mph. On a narrow roadway at a busy intersection I had no option but to accelerate to mitigate the collision. In the image below you can see the damage sustained by the taxi. Our own vehicle only sustained a crumpled rear bumper, a relatively simple repair. The children were fine but our adult passengers are all experiencing the effects of whip lash. I accompanied the driver of the vehicle at fault to the emergency room (incidentally words cannot describe the horrific conditions in that section of the hospital, it reminded me of a war zone.). Despite having shattered the windshield with his scull he appeared to be in stable condition, although he had most certainly sustained a concussion. As we consider the incident we give thanks to God our protector for sparing us from what could have been a much more dire result.
You have been praying, and we thank you for your continued intercession in our behalf. We are admittedly drained at this time with all that has taken place. By God’s grace we will recover our strength and resolve and press on again. God has accomplished great things but we are convinced, that the most important results are yet to come. Would you commit once again to continued prayer on our behalf and for the Dendi people?
June 9, 2017
The Doctor Is In!
We are rejoicing at the arrival of Dr. Stephen and Katrina Boutrus in West Africa! As I begin this letter we are in Niamey, Niger, stocking up on supplies and preparing our vehicles for the trip south to Benin. The arrival of the Boutrus’ is a great milestone for progress with the clinic ministry. All the pieces are coming together in a timely manner and we are praising God for his evident work in bringing about the completion of many phases in this aspect of the work here.
Meanwhile…four days later, I am putting the finishing touches on this update and Steve and Katrina are settling into their new home in Boiffo!
This is our first update since we returned home for Colin’s fathers memorial service. We want to express our gratitude to the many who reached out to our family through this difficult time. We are certainly comforted in knowing that our father is in the presence of the Lord but the pain of loss remains with those who carry on in his absence. We appreciated receiving scores of condolences through the mail and e-mail as well as a number of financial gifts that more than covered the cost of our return stateside. We were both grateful and humbled at the number of those who were present at the celebration of life service on March 17th. Many drove for hours to be a part of the day and encourage our family. The day of memorial reminded us again that Dave Ovenell walked with the Lord and dedicated his life to serving others. It was an inspiration to us and our ongoing work, reminding us of the brevity of life and the importance of a consistent walk of faith as expressed in returning love to our heavenly Father and our neighbors.
We returned to Benin on May 8th and were greeted by a delegation of members from the churches in Cotonou. Upon arriving home in Guene later in the week, we were privileged to receive visitors and words of comfort from a number of groups from surrounding villages. Our own village chief arrived, and even the recently crowned king of the Dendi people sent representatives to greet us. It is comforting to know that our family is well loved at home here and in the U.S. We are grateful for your friendship, love and prayers for our family and ministry.
On the Horizon…
Busy weeks are ahead. The past several weeks have been dedicated to settling back in and preparing the Boutrus’ home for their arrival. Some work still remains on the missionary housing projects but much of our efforts are now directed toward the completion of projects related to the clinic itself. In the weeks to come Dr. Steve will be focusing on settling in and preparing for the opening of the clinic. Teams related to the clinic ministry will begin arriving a few weeks from now in preparation for the inauguration which is slated for August 12th.
In a few short weeks we will return to Niamey so that Colin can teach a module (Romans 9-16). It has been some time since we have had the opportunity to teach in Niamey and we are looking forward to working with an excellent core of students that are continuing their ministry training in this devastatingly lost part of West Africa.
We are experiencing growth in the church in Northern Benin. New works beginning, old works growing and strengthening, lives being transformed as new believers come to faith in Christ and old believers grow in their walk with the Lord. In addition our ministry team has significantly expanded. Although the Beckley’s recently returned home for a short furlough, the Marshalls are settled in Boiffo, the Boutrus’ are moving in and we are back in the flow of ministry. Our children have especially enjoyed the presence of the other families. Friday night fun night, complete with pizza is a highlight for these TCK’s (Third culture kids).